A prominent Southern Baptist layman accused of sexual abuse in a pending lawsuit has stopped making payments in an earlier lawsuit settled with the same individual, according to documents filed recently in a Texas court.
Houston attorney Dan Shea said in a fourth amended petition Feb. 16 that “conservative resurgence” co-founder Paul Pressler unilaterally ceased payment last October under a 2004 agreement with Gareld D. Rollins, a 53-year-old Houston man again suing the retired appeals court judge with new allegations in a case filed the same month.
A document in the current case file indicates Pressler agreed in 2004 to pay Rollins $1,500 a month for 25 years in a confidential settlement of a lawsuit over an apparently non-sexual assault alleged to have occurred when the two men traveled together to Dallas in November 2003.
Rollins and his attorney turned over their files as part of the agreement but last year asked to review the 2004 agreement to determine what happens to any unpaid balance if Pressler, 87 and reportedly in poor health, does not live until 2029.
Pressler’s attorney, Edward Tredennick, said in an amended motion for summary judgment Feb. 2 that Rollins waived all future claims against Pressler in the 2004 settlement. That is on top of earlier statements by Pressler denying all accusations in the pending lawsuit and arguing the case is barred by statute of limitations.
Shea claimed that launching legal proceedings last year to unseal the document in anticipation of a potential lawsuit did not violate a paragraph prohibiting disclosure of the settlement’s nature or terms. Shea said Pressler’s “unilateral and unlawful” cessation of payments leaves it up to his client to seek enforcement of the agreement in court.
Rollins also filed a third amended complaint Feb. 4 adding Second Baptist Church in Houston as a ninth defendant in an alleged “joint enterprise” comprised of individuals and institutions aiding and abetting the alleged abuse.
The new claim says Pressler moved back and forth between Houston’s First and Second Baptist churches to conceal allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct involving separate individuals unrelated to the pending lawsuit.
Other parties accused of participating in the alleged cover up include Pressler’s wife, Nancy; his former law partner, Jared Woodfill, and his law firm; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, Paige Patterson, credited along with Pressler as co-founder of the strategy to gain conservative control of the nation’s second-largest faith group from moderates in the 1980s and 1990.
Another party, the Southern Baptist Convention, filed a legal argument Feb. 9 claiming the court cannot consider the case due to the “ecclesiastical abstention” doctrine, a First Amendment protection that prevents secular courts from intervening in matters of religious doctrine or church governance.
The plea notes references in the lawsuit to the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Calvinist notion that sin cannot cause a Christian to forfeit his or her salvation as fostering the culture that allowed the alleged abuse to occur.
The lawsuit says Rollins’ abuse coincided with the return in the Southern Baptist Convention to “a literal, anti-scientific interpretation of the Bible.” It labels Presser a “closet Calvinist,” theologically entitled to wield authority over vulnerable women and children as a “vice regent” for God.
“This religion-based theory is so inextricably intertwined with the substantive issues” in the case, the SBC argued in the filing, the court cannot “apply neutral principles of law without inquiring as to the doctrines invoked.”
On Feb. 13, the SBC filed another motion saying all claims against the denomination are too old to litigate. Barring an exception to the window to file a claim set forth by statutes of limitation, the motion says, the current lawsuit is at least eight years too late.
Rollins claims his abuse began when he was about 14 and drove him toward substance abuse and eventually to a string of arrests and prison. He says it wasn’t until November 2015, when he made an “outcry statement” to a prison psychologist, that he linked his poor choices to early childhood sexual abuse.
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